Neuqua Valley pulls away from Timothy Christian
After missing out on an opportunity for a Class 2A state championship last season because of circumstances out of its control, Timothy Christian's boys basketball team cherished a return back to the court on Saturday night.
Last March, the Trojans were dealt an unfortunate blow when the IHSA canceled all four classes of the state tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Trojans were already in Peoria, the sight of the state tournament, when they discovered their season came to a premature close without an ending on the court.
So, when this season was suddenly restarted in late January, the Trojans, led by Josh Harris and Ben VanderWal, were excited for their opener against Class 4A powerhouse Neuqua Valley. From their state run last season, the Trojans have a state finalist trophy in their hallway, and plan on putting on a state banner later this season.
But the Wildcats spoiled the festivities, breaking open a close game with a fourth-quarter surge to pull out a 65-53 victory in Elmhurst.
Even after the tough nonconference loss, dealing with a home opener that had only a smattering of fans and everybody in the gym being required to wear masks, Timothy Christian coach Scott Plaisier said it was a good night for everyone involved.
"I told the team afterwards that it almost didn't feel like a game because we would normally get a big crowd on a Saturday night," he said. "There was a little adjustment period with that. Normally our bench is really loud, so an adjustment period with that on how loud should we be, and we were playing against a really good basketball team. We were chasing all night long, and we let down just a hair in the fourth they go on a run and that's a basketball game.
"We're grateful to be out here playing, and just want to learn to get a little bit bitter every game."
The Wildcats relied on a solid team effort to knock off the Trojans, but senior guard John Poulakidas shined the brightest. The Yale recruit poured in a game-leading 26 points, lighting it up with step back jumpers, fadeaways and 3-pointers. Connor Davis tallied 14 points and 9 rebounds.
"It felt great to be back out there on the court," Poulakidas said. "There's nothing more you can ask for to be back on the court. It was a great feeling. I was happy that I wasn't forcing anything on the offensive end, not force shots and tried to get the best shot possible on offense.
The Wildcats' size overwhelmed the smaller Trojans on both ends, but junior forward Ben VanderWal and senior guard Josh Harris kept the game close with their shooting. VanderWal shot 4-for-7 on 3-pointers to lead the team with 20 points 11 rebounds and Harris, an Illinois College recruit, added 18 points.
"The biggest thing for me is always winning the game, so it's a bummer we couldn't come out on top," VanderWal said. "It's nice to play and get going. I just want to help the team, whether rebounding or scoring."